Napster The End Or Merely The Begining

Napster: The End Or Merely The Begining Essay, Research Paper

Napster: The End or Merely the Beginning

If you haven’t heard of Napster before you should be asking yourself what planet you’re from? From when it first was programmed by 19 year old Shawn Fanning, people could tell it was going to be a big success. And it was, spreading like a fire and causing all kinds of media hype as well as causing its share of various legal problems. So if you have been living in a cave or another planet I’ll try to explain Napster to you as best as I can. Napster allows you to log onto the Internet and search (like a search engine only more refined) for songs in mp3 format (the digital form of music). You can type in the name of the song and the artist and it will come up with the closet match as well as a listing the song’s name, the speed of the user you are about to download it off of (or the ping) and the user’s name. When you download this song in mp3 format, it is stored in a personal file on your hard drive and you can listen to them via Napster’s own playing device or you can burn the mp3’s onto Cd’s if you have a cd burner. Mp3’s have been around long before Napster but Napster has employed a revolutionary system for the transferring of information between users. It basically works like this; 1) Napster user logs on, 2) Once user is logged onto server this allows other users to access any mp3’s you’ve already downloaded yourself, 3) Napster user downloads more mp3’s they are looking for, 4) song is downloaded and stored on your hard drive but is accessible to other Napster users who want the same song. What you are doing in essence is “sharing” files, one user searches for the song he wants finds it and downloads it off another, in turn that user himself is looking for another file to download off someone else. The files when downloaded are copied to your hard drive from the other users. This said its not surprising to see all the legal action taken against Napster, most see it is plain and simple piracy and it posses a great threat to the Recording Industry. But was taking legal action nesecary seeing as the technology would spread and eventually be used for other media? Wouldn’t it have been better to work out some agreement between the two businesses instead of merely trying to hold back this technology?

Shawn Fanning, the maker of Napster, grew up in Brockton Mass., a working class town outside of Boston. He grew up without his biological farther but him and his mom managed on welfare. Despite this his uncle, John Fanning, was always there to lend a helping hand. John had bought Shawn his first computer when he was a sophomore in high school and later paid for a separate phone line in his house so he could surf the Internet whenever he wanted to. During summer vacations Shawn worked as an intern at his uncle’s company, Netgames, an online gaming site. This is where Shawn learned and learned to love computer programming. In the fall of 1998 he went to Northeaster University in Boston to study computer science, however he soon became bored of college and would often skip classes to hang around his uncle’s office. It was here that he began to form a vision, a vision to make it easier to find mp3’s on the net. Before Napster, and the many other programs that have recently sprung up because of it, to find digital music you would have to sift through hundreds of sites claiming to have hundreds of free mp3’s just to find one song. Now you just type in the name or artist or both of the song you are looking for and Napster comes up with about a hundred matches. With the blessing of his uncle he dropped out of college when John saw the business potential of Napster in January 1999, “I didn’t see us turning it into a business,” says Shawn. “I just did it because I loved the technology.” In May, a month before the finished version of Napster would be completed, Shawn’s Uncle John incorporated the company, John got 70%; Shawn got 30%. While Shawn is the public face of Napster, today he owns less then 10% of the upstart and is not involved in the company’s business decisions. Shawn Fanning has no senior management position and isn’t on the board. Mostly, he works on developing the company’s software.

Shawn first wanted to test the finished Napster out on some 30 friends he met in a chat room and told them not to spread the word. They obviously couldn’t resist as 3,000 to 4,000 people downloaded Napster of the site. With this John had reassurance that Napster was going to be a hit. With Napster users quickly growing in number and clogging up Internet servers in many major universities and offices it was time to investigate the potential legal problems. John brought in an experienced lawyer in terms of how copyright laws apply to digital technologies. All the while though John was also selling shares to those interested in investing in what seemed like an exciting new technological advancement. To cope with this growth John knew Napster needed to bring in a CEO to run the company. They brought in Eileen Richardson who would turn out to be more trouble then help especially with handling the delicate legal issues. The problem with Richardson was that she was inexperienced and confrontational. The RIAA (Recording Industry of America) sued Napster on December 7, 1999 after long talks were held from the late summer 1999. Many believe this could have been avoided and the two could work something out if Richardson was more understanding and less confrontational. She was often heard screaming at music execs on the phone. Napster would win this first battle but by just barely and there would still be a few more other court cases for them on the horizon. The RIAA encouraged its musicians to speak out against Napster as after all it was their music they were trying to protect. Many, however, refused wanting rather to “give power to the people”. One band though that did jump on the bandwagon was Metallica, suing for copyright infringement. Napster was ordered to try to ban all Metallica mp3’s from their servers and managed to survive this onslaught as well. Recently though Napster was taken to The Ninth Circuit Court and the result was not all good. In the words of Napster’s web site: “The court has issued an injunction directing Napster to block the sharing of specific music files after we receive appropriate notice from the copyright holders (in most cases, the record companies). We’ve already received some notices, and we expect the record companies to send more notices soon.’ You will still be able to share music that we haven’t been asked to block but this may soon change.

This entire Napster issue has generally been regarded as a group of freewheeling kids who never considered the legal implications of their software. This just isn’t the case as a lot of preparations were made right from the start to prevent a law suit. However the music industry has decided to hold this technology back which isn’t the smartest of things to do. Technology will always be improving and to hold it back is a vain quest. As the net’s speed and size increases technologies much like Napster could be used to trade everything from full-length movies to computer operating systems, anything that can take digital form. Its unfortunate that Napster and the ‘industry’ couldn’t try to work something out but this will eventually happen when not only mp3’s are shared but other forms of media as well. So in conclusion its in this writer’s opinion that its better to go with the flow then try to fight the inevitable.


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